Washington — The key to achieving sustainable economic growth while preserving environmental resources will be new ideas, pragmatism and optimism about "a more prosperous future," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a speech June 22 at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, as it concluded in Rio de Janeiro.
"The most compelling products of this conference are the examples of new thinking that can lead to models for future action," said Clinton of the conference, which attracted about 40,000 participants. She said it is time to abandon orthodox thinking on development, and hatch some innovative ideas.
The secretary of state cited several examples of recently launched U.S. initiatives designed to solve development and environment issues in nontraditional ways.
• A U.S.-Africa alliance just announced in Rio will be based on $20 million in U.S. assistance that will "unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in private financing for clean energy projects in Africa and beyond," Clinton said. The United States will make that investment in partnership with a U.N proposal announced in Rio, the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
• The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves promoted by the United States and key partners creates markets for new stoves while improving in-home air quality and the health of women and children exposed to open cook fires.
• A climate and clean air coalition is working to reduce one class of greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific findings that this action can deliver a short-term payoff in cleaner air and better health.
The last several decades have demonstrated how innovation, energy and opportunity can lead to growth and an improved standard of living, Clinton said. Seventy percent of capital flows into the developing world 50 years ago came from donor governments, but today, government assistance is only 13 percent of inflows, even though the level of assistance has increased.
Private sector investments have made the difference, Clinton said, leading to "more balanced, inclusive, sustainable growth."
With the majority of the world's population living in cities, Clinton said, new thinking must be applied to urban expansion. An effort launched last year by the United States and Brazil is attempting to bring together a variety of responsible private- and public-sector interests to develop these ideas, and Clinton said the effort holds promise
"If, as I heard earlier today, 70 percent of the structures that will be needed in 30 years to house, to provide economic opportunities for, the world's population have yet to be built," Clinton said, "then we have a tremendous opportunity we cannot waste."
Human rights and gender concerns must also be factored into sustainable economic decisionmaking, Clinton said, to ensure that no group is shut out of the opportunities to build a better future. She cited recent World Bank research that finds women are "essential drivers of sustainable development," and praised the outcome agreement of the Rio+20 conference for its affirmations on the need to expand opportunities for women and to ensure rights of sexual and reproductive health.
"Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children," Clinton said to applause. "The United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements."
Clinton also reminded the Rio audience that they must "keep faith with future generations," because they will judge whether this sustainable development conference and the actions it suggests have been successful.
U.N., INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVES
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued the "Zero Hunger Challenge" at the conference. He urged all nations to work toward a future in which every individual is adequately nourished and all food systems are resilient.
"In a world of plenty, no one -- not a single person -- should go hungry," Ban said as he launched the initiative June 21. Ban called on farmers, business people, scientists, civil society and consumers to join the challenge to achieve five main objectives: 100 percent access to adequate food all year; ending malnutrition in pregnancy and early childhood; creating sustainability in all food systems; increasing productivity and income for small landowners, particularly women; and achieving a zero rate of food waste.
The pursuit of sustainable transportation got a $175 billion boost from the eight multilateral development banks, including the World Bank and the Asian, Latin American and African development banks.
"These unprecedented commitments have the promise to save hundreds of thousands of lives by cleaning the air and making roads safer; cutting congestion in hundreds of cities; and reducing the contribution of transportation to harmful climate change," said Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat.
Experts say well-considered transportation investments will support sustainable development and promote a reduced consumption of resources in urban environments.
Source: United States Department of States